Although shaving, tweezing, or waxing can remove unwanted hair, many people are now looking for more long-term solutions. Two commonly used methods to achieve this are laser hair removal and electrolysis.
Both procedures target hair follicles under the surface of the skin to curb or prevent their growth. Although electrolysis is the only hair removal method endorsed by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permanent hair removal, and according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, laser hair removal is currently the more popular option in the United States.
Keep reading to discover the advantages and disadvantages of each procedure.
Fast facts on laser hair removal and electrolysis:
- Laser hair removal involves the use of lasers to deliver mild radiation to the hair follicles.
- Electrolysis involves inserting a probe into the hair follicle and sending an electric current through it.
- Both laser therapy and electrolysis have their advantages and disadvantages.
Laser hair removal uses a laser to damage hair follicles sufficiently to reduce hair growth.
It will permanently diminish hair growth, but does not eliminate unwanted hair forever — eventually, the hair will grow back.
What does the procedure involve?
Before the procedure, the technician performing the laser surgery will trim the hair that is being treated close to the skin.
The technician will then adjust the laser's settings based on the color and thickness of the hair being removed, as well as the area being treated. Preparations will likely also take into account the color of the person's skin.
The technician will then apply a cold gel to the skin to protect it. Some people may be given a topical anesthetic to minimize discomfort. Anyone having their hair removed with a laser will need to wear eye protection during the treatment.
After the procedure, it may be necessary to apply ice packs to alleviate discomfort. For severe pain, a doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers or a steroid cream.
Most people will require up to 8 follow-up treatments to get the best results, which can be scheduled 4 to 6 weeks apart. Once hair growth has been sufficiently restrained, a person may require a once-or twice-yearly maintenance session.
Advantages of laser hair removal
Some of the benefits of laser hair removal include:
- Precision: The lasers quickly target coarse, dark hairs.
- Speed: Laser pulses take just milliseconds, and can treat several hairs at once, which means that small areas can be treated in just minutes.
- Lighter growth and color: New hair growth tends to be less dense than before, and the new hair is often a few shades lighter than the original hair.
- Efficacy: Many people see long-term results after 3 to 8 sessions.
Disadvantages of laser hair removal
Laser hair removal is not suitable for everyone, and there are some risks involved. Its main disadvantages include:
- Not suitable for all coloring: The laser works best on people with light skin and dark hair because the laser targets dark colors.
- Risk of adverse reactions: Some of the more undesirable side effects of laser hair removal can include discolored skin, swelling, skin redness, blisters, and scarring. However, some of these resolve within hours of the treatment.
- Photosensitivity: Lasers can increase the skin's sensitivity to sunlight (photosensitivity); so direct exposure to the sun must be avoided immediately after the procedure. People having laser treatment should avoid sunlight for 6 weeks before treatment to prevent discoloration of the tanned skin.
- Dangers of numbing products: According to the FDA, the use of skin-numbing products in laser hair removal has led to reports of serious and life-threatening side effects that occurred after individuals applied a numbing agent to large areas of the body.
People should use a fully trained, certified laser technician working under the direction of a board-certified healthcare provider to reduce the risk of severe and long-lasting side effects following laser hair removal.
Insurance companies consider laser hair removal to be a cosmetic procedure, and so they do not cover it.
Costs vary according to the area of the body being treated and the number of sessions required but can cost $200 to $400 per visit. Prices also vary depending on the geographic location of the laser treatment center.
It is also necessary to factor in the price of the yearly maintenance procedures when calculating the total cost of this treatment.
At-home therapies or salon treatments, although significantly cheaper, carry more significant risks.
Electrolysis involves passing an electrical current through a hair follicle, which damages the follicle and prevents new hair growth.
Electrolysis is the only method of permanent hair removal available. To ensure efficacy and safety, a licensed, board-certified dermatologist or electrologist should carry out the procedure.
What does the procedure involve?
Before the procedure, a person will typically have a consultation with an electrologist to discuss their health and medical history.
The procedure itself involves the technician placing an ultra-thin needle into the targeted hair follicle. An electric current passes through the probe, killing the hair root.
Very little aftercare is necessary. Although the skin may feel irritated and appear slightly red, these symptoms tend to resolve within a few hours.
For permanent hair removal, a person will need several treatments. This is because the skin has multiple follicles for each hair, so dormant follicles may begin to grow hair between sessions. Follow-up sessions treat these newly active follicles.
The majority of people will require follow-up sessions every week or every other week for several weeks to eliminate hair on the target area.
Advantages of electrolysis
Electrolysis has the following advantages:
- Permanent: Electrolysis is the only FDA-approved method of permanent hair removal.
- Versatility: According to the American Electrology Association, electrolysis is effective for people with any skin type, skin color, hair type, and hair color. Electrolysis is suitable for any area of the body — including the eyebrows.
- No recovery time: People can resume their daily activities immediately after the procedure.
- Maintenance-free: There is no need to schedule an annual electrolysis session — once the hair has been removed no more treatments are necessary.
- No harsh chemicals: Unlike with laser hair removal or hair bleaching, electrolysis does not require the use of chemicals on the skin.
Disadvantages of electrolysis
Although there are many benefits to electrolysis, there are some risks and drawbacks to consider:
- Several sessions: If larger areas are being treated with electrolysis, such as the legs or back, it can take several long sessions to achieve permanent results. Also, removing coarse hair, such as from around the bikini line, requires more sessions. Some people may require up to 30 treatments.
- Discomfort: People undergoing electrolysis hair removal may experience some pain and discomfort. It may help to take a pain reliever before treatment and to apply ice following the session.
- Potential for adverse effects: These include scarring in rare cases or infection from unsterilized needles. These risks highlight the importance of only using a board-certified dermatologist.
Most insurance will not cover electrolysis hair removal. However, depending on the area and the type of hair being treated, it can work out less expensive than laser hair removal.
For example, a 30-minute session targeting a small area can cost as little as $45.
People should keep in mind that they might require more sessions than they would with laser treatment.
Both laser hair removal and electrolysis treatments provide a long-term solution to unwanted hair growth.
All things considered, despite being a slower method of hair removal, electrolysis is more versatile, and permanently removes hair. It also typically causes fewer adverse reactions.
Those considering long-term hair removal treatments should speak with a skincare specialist about the best options for their needs.